Friday, December 28, 2018

Dry Bones, New Year

Ezekiel was a contemporary of Jeremiah and Daniel.  That is to say, the Babylonians had defeated Jerusalem and Judah and taken many captives and deported them to Babylon.  Daniel went in the first wave.  Ezekiel in the second.  Jeremiah prophesied in both locations.  Together they paint a more complete picture of these times when God’s people were humbled by their enemies.

All of these prophets note that it was the turning away from God and his laws and his righteousness that resulted in God lifting his protection from their enemies.  Collectively there were a whole mess of warnings, followed by “I told you so’s” followed by promises of restoration.

Today we focus on Ezekiel and one special pericope.  Ezekiel was unique in that he prophesied not only the removal of God’s glory from the temple and his people but the restoration of both.  God’s people would know God’s glory once again.

Ezekiel is unique in that he prophesied not only to God’s people but to Edom and Egypt, to mountains, and surely to God’s own people.

This 37th chapter presents imagery of what might have been the aftermath of battles fought in a place once called Topath or Ben Hinnom but which the Lord told Jeremiah would henceforth be known as the Valley of Slaughter. 

This was a vision of a place that left God’s people desolate and void of joy.  Imagine our countryside covered not in wheat fields and hay bales, cattle and windmills, barns and farmhouses, but desert and dry bones.  Imagine that a battle was waged here, and the bodies of soldiers were too numerous to evacuate and give a proper burial.

Imagine defeat so tragic that we would not even bring our veteran’s bodies to a proper resting place.  Year after year the uniforms wear off, scavenger birds eat the flesh, and sun and wind bleach and wither the skeletal remains. 

You probably are thinking, “Hey! Enough of that.  We have a fellowship meal in a little bit.”

I doubt had Ezekiel planned his own day, he would have wanted to be brought to this place either, but he was.  He was brought there in the spirit—in a vision—that the Lord had given him. This was nothing new to Ezekiel, he prophesied time and again for the Lord, but this was a unique vision and conversation that followed.

The Lord says, “Son of man—speaking to Ezekiel—can these bones live?”

Ezekiel sort of knows that this is a trick question.  It’s like there is no way these bones have any future but dust, but then again, I am having this conversation with the Lord, so what can I say?

Oh Sovereign Lord, only you know!

The Lord doesn’t just say, “I got this.”  He instructs Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones.  He says tell these bones that I will put them back together and breath life back into them.

Ezekiel does what he is told and as he is speaking there is this rattling sound of bones coming back together.  You might be thinking that this chapter should be accompanied with the soundtrack to Thriller

But there is more to this than just skeletons coming back together.  Tendons and flesh and skin are reconstituting these once desolate bones.  Yet, these creatures are not alive.  There is no breath in them.

So the Lord instructs Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath.  Let it come from the four winds.  Ezekiel did as commanded and breath entered them and they stood and came to life.

Now that’s some stuff right there, but God was not just showing off.  He told Ezekiel that these bones were the whole house of Israel—not two kingdoms but one—who had given up hope.

God said that he would restore his people—people who were now captives or living among the rubble of their once proud lands.  To understand the imagery of the bones, we must turn back to the previous chapter.

Again, the Lord gives Ezekiel prophesies.  He says that he will gather his people from all over the world and restore them to the land promised them.  He will take out their hearts of stone and replace it with one of flesh.  These people will be receptive to the Lord’s ways.

None of this will be because the people earned restoration.  They did not.  The Lord said that they should be ashamed of their conduct.  The Lord will do this because he is the Lord and so that the people will have no doubt that he is the Lord.

The nations that scorned God’s people will also know that he is the Lord and he does what he says he will do.  The Lord does what he says he will do.

It’s a cool story that we should all know.  It helps us understand Israel’s history and prophecy.  It gives us insight into a time long ago, and…

Perhaps it gives us some hope for the year to come.  In the whole of my life, I have never seen such insanity as I have seen this year.  I have never seen such disdain for the one true God and his holy word.  Whether it is celebrating a right to kill a child or change your gender on a monthly basis or just ridicule someone who professes God’s word as a hater or racists or some other derogatory term yet to be conceived, the world is moving farther away from God. 

We are blessed to live where we do but we are not immune from the depravity of the world.  I don’t think that I have lived through a year that had as much hate, animosity, acrimony, and general discord as this one.

I don’t think I have known a year with as much narcissism, condemnation of others, and just general depravity as this one.  You might just want to throw in the towel on this whole living right business.

We might look around and see a world full of dried bones.  We might see ourselves as having already moved beyond the tipping point.  We might just say, the end is surely near.  The world is going to hell in a handbasket and we had just as well enjoy the ride.


We might prophesy to the dry bones.  What would we say?  Has the Lord given us words to say to these dry bones around us now?

He has.  What if we spoke his words to the dry bones of this age?  What if we spoke words of affirmation to each other?  What if…

What if we challenged each other every week with this one? 

What if we encouraged each other with this one?

What if we proclaimed this one to the world—even a world of dry bones?

What if we reminded each other of this one?

What if we starting speaking the words given to us by God and did it on a regular basis?  What if we talked less about the Sooners and more about God is love?

What if instead of ranting on the price of gasoline, we reminded each other that the Lord loves a cheerful giver.

How about when we need to encourage each other or are going through some stuff, we remind each other:

Or we remind each other of Joseph’s words to his brothers when we have been wronged by someone.

Or when we just can’t seem to hold on and be that overcomer that we want to be…

What if in 2019, we started speaking to the dead bones all around us.  What if we spoke to those living with apathy and ambivalence to the one true God?  What would we say?

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

The world is a mess.  It is moving farther away from God.  We are a little better here than in some places, but the love of many is growing cold, even in our refuge.

We must speak the words of the Lord.  We have so many from which to choose.  We speak to each other to challenge and encourage and to the lost and disconnected in hopes that they will know the grace of God that we do.

But speaking the words is not enough.  We must have the breath.  We must have the Spirit of God leading us, guiding us, prompting us to speak his words.

The Holy Spirit must accompany our every word whether we are quoting scripture or not.  We must not only yield to the Spirit’s direction but embrace it as well.  As we look forward, let’s make more of those words that we speak, the words of the Lord.  Let us prophecy to the dead bones around us with words that we have already been given.

Let us encourage one another with affirmations found in the word of God.  

Where do we start?  Let’s go with this while you start putting your plan to speak God’s word more next year.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Happy New Year and Amen!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Jesus, Lord at they Birth

Read Psalm 96

Why are we reading psalms at Christmas?  How about something from Matthew or Luke?  Even John 1:14 would fit, but psalms?

We could do the reverse genealogy of Jesus from Luke’s third chapter, but psalms?

Consider the last five worlds of Silent Night!  Holy Night!  Can you recall them or do you have to sing all 3 verses to get there?

Jesus – Lord – at – thy – birth

We think of no room at the inn, a babe in a manger, the shepherds being scared when angels visit them with some very special news.  We think of the virgin birth and journey to the City of David, Bethlehem, to make sure this birth took place exactly where required by prophecy. We might think of a very pregnant Mary making this 70-90-mile journey.

I’m thinking of Joseph rolling his eyes saying to himself, “Are we really stopping again?”

But how often do we think, Jesus, Lord at thy birth?

This Babe in a manger is the King of kings.  Away in a manger, no crib for a bed. Who is in this manger?  The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head.

He is the Lord of lords.  He reigns.  He can’t walk, talk, or feed himself but he reigns.  He is Lord at birth.  God the Father has put everything in his hands, including and especially our salvation.

God has also put everything in the hands of Mary and Joseph.  The care of the hope of the world is in the hands of this very young couple who only a year earlier probably didn’t have a care in the world.

This same Jesus who was very much central to the creation of the world has presented himself to that creation in the flesh as a newborn child.  He is Lord at birth and as helpless as any baby.

The King of kings and Lord of lords surrendered himself to the will of his Father and entered this world as a baby.  We sometimes like the undercover boss type shows where the top executive masquerades as a low-level employee for a day or two.  It’s good stuff to get a perspective from the bottom.

Jesus didn’t pop into this world and do a couple days as a kid then move on to adult ministry then back to his rightful place at the right hand of his Father.  He was born of a woman who had surrendered herself to the law and to the will of God, but Jesus would have to plug along day by day like any child.

He would drink his mother’s milk and soil a diaper—not the disposable type—just like any child, but this child was and is king. He was and is Lord.  He reigns!

Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

What is our response?  It is to sing a new song, praise his name, and declare his glory.  Great is our Lord and he is worthy of our praise.  Turn your Bibles to the far right and hear a question asked in the throne room of heaven.  Who is worthy to open the scroll?

No one was found worthy anywhere in all of creation, save this Lamb of God that we now celebrate as a babe in the manger.

Turn back to Isaiah 9 and see what has come upon the world. 

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

Read on a little farther and we see:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Isaiah looking forward and we looking back know that this story manifests itself in the birth of a child in the city of David.  Love came into the world in the flesh as a baby and as the King of kings.  Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

The gods of this world are made of wood and stone and of human hands.  The one true God came into this world in the flesh, born of a woman who followed God’s ways.

The gods of this world were given power by their creators—people who had deluded themselves into making something of their own creation to be their god.

The one true God came into this world as a child; yet he was Lord at his birth.  The Lord reigns.

Our response is to worship him.  O, come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Let all creation rejoice before him—before the Lord.  Joy to the world!  The Lord is come.

Jesus would walk the earth for just over 3 decades.  He lived the human life.  He endured pain and struggle as we do.   He lived a sinless life though Satan himself would do his best to tempt him.

We know of the babe born in a manger, a man of miracles, a suffering servant, and the one who had no sin who became sin for us. 

But this person that we know as Jesus was Lord at his birth.  One day we will see that clearly.  Today we take by faith that he was Lord at his birth and will come again as the King of kings and Lord or lords. 

We sing about Mary and wonder if she knew that one day her Son would rule the nations, that he is the Lord of all creation.

Today’s psalm wraps up with a promise.  He will come to judge the world in righteousness and the people in faithfulness.  Mary did you know?

We know that we will all stand before him one day and give account, but because the King of kings and Lord of lords first came as a baby and lived a human life and died on a cross to atone for our sins, we will stand before him joyfully.

For we know him not only as judge but as Savior, King, Counselor, mighty God, High Priest, and Lord.  He was Lord at his birth but because the one true God is a God of love, we did not receive him first as the Rider who comes to judge and wage war.

It is surely his right to judge his own creation at any time.  He is Lord and he is just but the babe that came into this world as God with us is also merciful.  There will come a time for judgment and for some this will be a terrible time.

But because God came as a child, lived as a man, and redeemed those who would receive him as Lord and Savior, we do not fear the days ahead.
We rejoice at the birth of our Lord, who was Lord at his birth and is the Lord of lords forever.

Because he came as a child, we know our God to be one of mercy and compassion and love.  For God desires none to perish.

He is not slow in coming a second time.  He is patient that we might receive the gift that he brought us at his first advent into this world. 

When we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate not only God with us but God’s mercy, compassion, and love poured out upon us.

Jesus, Lord at thy birth, who is patient, compassionate, merciful, and full of love for us.  Let us celebrate Christmas and sing praises to the Lord of Lords. 

Jesus, Lord at thy birth!  Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 17, 2018

What should we do?

I’m sure that somewhere in the preacher’s handbook for Advent, there is a rule or regulation that states one must preach at least one Sunday about John the Baptist.  He did precede Jesus.  He did prepare the way for him.

Some thought that John might actually be the Messiah, but John set them straight noting that he was the lowest of servants compared to the One that would follow.

We sometimes spend time focusing on John’s wardrobe and dietary habits.  I love the proclamation that John the Baptist makes and is recorded in John the Apostle’s gospel.

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

John’s gospel provides the shortest Christmas story that we know.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I think the translators left out the words, Merry Christmas, at the end.  Mark’s gospel doesn’t have a Christmas Story. It starts with John the Baptist.

Paul provides a Christmas story in his letter to the Galatians.

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

We see a variety of ways that this thing we call the Christmas story was presented.  Matthew and Luke have more substantial accounts than the others. This year, I want us to look at the question that the people asked once they knew that John was for real and someone more important was coming.

John had been very terse in addressing the crowd.  There were surely some Scribes and Pharisees within the crowds that gathered, but John was letting everyone have it.

You brood of vipers!

The axe is already at the root of the tree.  This thing is happening.

Your claim to be Abraham’s offspring isn’t getting you anywhere with regards to be in right standing with God.

You had better produce fruit that is indicative of a life given over to repentance.

John got everyone’s attention and some asked:  What are we to do?  We understand how important this is, but we need some specifics to go with these metaphors and generalizations.

If you have more than you need, share.

If you can impose the will of the government, specifically tax collectors and soldiers, do it fairly, not for undue personal gain.  I would love to turn John the Baptist loose on our own government.
Don’t extort and don’t accuse falsely. 

John even had some choice words for Herod who had taken his brother’s wife to make his own.  There was no First Amendment, guarantee of Free Speech, or other worldly protection for John.  If you upset the wrong guy, you could end up in jail, and he did.

But for those who came and asked for his counsel, John’s instructions were simple and to the point.  Do what you already know you should be doing.
If you have more than you need and see someone who has little of nothing, help him or her or them.

If you have the advantage in a situation, don’t take advantage of your position.  Just be fair and merciful.  Do what is right.

If you have to choose between the ways of the Lord and the ways of the world, it should be a no-brainer.

Does this not remind you of Micah 6:8?

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

John is not asking people to do new things.  He charged them to do the things that they already knew to do.  He just added a sense of urgency not previously present.

 The axe is already at the root of the tree.  This thing is happening.
Messiah is coming.

About 50 or 60 years ago, people had bumper stickers that said, Jesus is coming.  Look busy!

John said:  Jesus is coming.  Be fruitful.  Produce fruit worthy of repentance.

We celebrate the coming of the Lord as a Babe in a manger.  We say Merry Christmas.  We sing about Emanuel—God with us.

I have challenged you to look forward not with trepidation but with anticipation to the time when our Lord comes again. 

We will receive the fullness of our salvation.

We will be fully redeemed.

We will be purified so that we will actually be the people that the blood of Jesus made us to be.  We will be refined as silver and gold.  What we could not do for ourselves, the Lord will do for us.

His coming is something that we should have an even greater expectation and greater anticipation than we do for Christmas. But what are we to do now?

There is no deep theological revelation here.  We know what we are to do.  We serve a God who is in his very nature love.  So, we seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

Sometimes that means:

·       Giving someone a coat.
·       Giving food to someone or to a family that is struggling.
·       Helping someone with a bill.
·       Sharing the good news that we know in Christ Jesus.
·       Inviting people to abundant life in Christ Jesus.
·       Encouraging people to become part of a family of faith.
·       Giving someone a ride.
·       Speaking the truth in love.
·       Putting gas in someone’s tank.
·       Saying no to an addict who just needs one more fix.
·       Saying yes to that prayer request and praying as if you were praying for your own family.
·       Visiting your neighbors.
·       Talking with strangers just because.
·       Giving someone a hug.
·       Listening more than we speak during prayers.
·       Reading God’s word with the Holy Spirit illuminating his word.
·       Singing Christmas carols for people who are shut in.
·       Visiting the sick and shut-ins.
·       Yielding to God’s own Spirit that dwells within us.  Embracing his direction.
·       Helping someone make a budget.
·       Helping someone find a job.
·       Putting our Spiritual Gifts to use to produce fruit for the body of Christ and bring Glory to God.
·       Being a light for someone who is lost in the darkness.
·       Letting people taste God’s goodness every time they come across your path.
·       Being less transactional with people.  Lead them to the One who can transform them.
·       Include people in your life.

Whoa!  I’m not sure I’m up for that last one.  I would like to stay transactional on that one.  I’ll cough up some money or food, but I don’t really want to have to deal with the people.  Isn’t that why we hired a preacher?

That’s one of the big-ticket items right up there with sharing the gospel.  We must bring people into the family of faith if we are going to make a long-term difference.  This is more than inviting people to church.  This is being such a compelling witness that others want to be the church.  This is the First Century Church that we see in Acts.

Our relationship with God grows when we begin and sustain godly relationships with others.

We don’t have many tax collectors among us who can charge whatever they think they can get away with.

We don’t have soldiers who can extort us.

We do have material blessings that we are called to share, and we have a commission that had not yet been bestowed upon the people of John’s time.

But much like the people of John’s time, we already know what we should be doing.  I listed a few.  You know of more.

God has always been straightforward about loving him and loving our neighbor.  These things are not mysteries.

There is a whole bunch of good stuff in store for us—Eye has not seen and ear has not heard what the Lord, God has in store for those who love him; but between now and then, we are charged to do what we already know to do.

John was very terse with many.  In fact, he said, “Who warned you—you brood of vipers—that you had better do something now to avoid God’s wrath?  Here’s the thing.  The people already knew.  They knew!

I need not be so terse this morning.  God condemned sin two thousand years ago on a hill called Golgotha.

God’s own Spirit lifted the blindness that you once had.  For some that happened long ago.   For others, it is more recent.

You have turned away from the world’s way and are seeking God’s ways.

You have professed Jesus not only as your Savior but as your Lord and you are trying to be his disciple.

We fall short but are not discouraged.  We continue to confess and follow him.

Trouble and struggle continue in our lives, but we know what to do.

Let’s have wonderful Christmas celebrations.  Let’s look forward to the time of our redemption and purification.  In between celebrating his first advent and his next, let’s just do the things that we know to do.  You know what these are.  They put a smile on God’s face.  They bring glory to his name.

Let’s be people who put the words of God into practice and truly be in the spirit to celebrate Christmas and every day from now until his return.  Let’s do the things that we already know to do!